Rekindling the Math Fire

I spent the other night on the beach with my wife and some friends.  We built an awesome fire but got so caught up in our good time enjoying the stars and the company that we almost let the fire die out.  It took some time and effort to rekindle it, especially since we were out of kindling and paper.

I’m in my third year at my current school, and the math fire here really has needed to be rekindled for a long time.  I have never worked somewhere where students have such a strong aversion to math.  I want so badly for students to see math the way that I have come to.  I know that some have changed their minds since having me as a teacher, but many haven’t or are too scarred from their past.  They avoid math like the plague.  Also I hate to admit it, but I know that there are things that I have done or said myself to turn kids off.  But despite all of these realities I am hell-bent on turning this place around.

One thing that I’ve been doing this year has been injecting math into life outside of the math classroom.  After assembly some of my minions and I have been handing out puzzles to students and giving a prize to whoever brings it back in solved correctly.  I’ve also begun to create a weekly math trivia in the cafeteria at lunch.  I post a problem on the table I sit at with blank slips of paper and pens around.  A student will come look at the problem, write an answer and their name, and hopefully I draw their name from the correct responses later that day for a prize.  Anything I can do to feed these students a sense of joy when doing math is a plus.

Lunch Trivia

It’s really interesting how just bringing something out of the classroom can draw in students who really just don’t care much in class (sometimes just because it’s class, it seems).  I’ve gotten kids having positive experiences with math who otherwise would stay away at all costs.  Perhaps the best thing about this experience has been that it starts rich discussions and arguments based on the nature of the problems, as I like to keep them simple and accessible but tricky.  Students become intrigued by the riddle-style problems that have more to them than it seems.

I feel like this really touches on the essence of problem-solving.  I frankly would be incredibly bored half the time as a math student if all that was expected of me was to plug away at monotonous equations and “practice problems.”  The more I teach the more I realize how much of an imperative it is for math classes to be based on solving real problems.  That is what converted me and brought me into a true understanding of mathematics when previously I had the same misconceptions that I want to correct in my own students.  The overwhelming sense of joy and awe and wonder that comes with solving tough problems is indescribable, and I just have to bring this to the students here somehow.

I guess the question that I’m left with here is that I’m interested in learning things that others have had successes with in this realm.  I work at a boarding school, so I have unique opportunities to do stuff not only within school hours but in the evenings too or at meals.  Any ideas?

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